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Breast cancer affects men too: Look out for any lump in armpit, neck; people with diabetes, obesity at higher risk

All you need to know about breast cancer in men – how it can affect you, physically and emotionally.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Dec 06, 2019, 01.39 PM IST
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The total incidences of breast cancer in India are 1, 65,000, out of which one per cent is found in men.
While many of us saw facial fuzz in prominence in November, men growing out their beards and moustaches wasn’t just for aesthetic appeal. Movember is a month-long campaign to raise awareness for men’s health issues, especially the ones that men are hesitant to talk about. And one such concern is breast cancer in men.

Mathew Knowles, father of pop diva Beyoncé, recently revealed his battle with male breast cancer and urged other men to get tested for the disease. Knowles said that more men need to speak out and there needs to be aware ness that men are also at risk of breast cancer.

We ask the experts to tell us what are the signs to look out for and how breast cancer can affect men physically and emotionally.

​In October, Mathew Knowles (seen here with daughter Beyoncé) announced that he had been diagnosed with breast cancer​.
In October, Mathew Knowles (seen here with daughter Beyoncé) announced that he had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

It’s rare but be aware
“Men have to be made aware that breast cancer is not exclusively for women. It affects men too, although the incidence is rare,” says Dr Mallika Tewari, Senior Consultant and Program Lead Surgical Oncology, Wockhardt Hospitals. According to Dr Ramakant Deshpande, Surgical Oncologist, Asian Cancer Institute, the total incidences of breast cancer in India are 1, 65,000 out of which one per cent is found in men.

He adds, “The signs are a lump actually either in the breast area, the armpit, the neck or bone pain or cough, bleeding from nipple, nipple retraction etc. The suspicion rate in men is not high compared to what we see in women. Obesity, family history, previous radiation in same area, gynecomastia [breast enlargement in males often due to hormonal irregularity are some of the causes associated with male breast cancer.”

Early diagnosis is important
A study on male breast cancer found that the average time between the first symptoms appearing and diagnosis is over a year and a half. “This long time between the symptom and diagnosis is probably because people don’t expect breast cancer to happen to men, so there is little to no early detection,” says Dr Mandeep S Malhotra, Oncology Surgery, Fortis Hospital. “Earlier diagnosis could make a life-saving difference. If more public awareness is created, men will learn that just like women, they need to go to their doctor right away if they detect any persistent changes to their breasts.”

Emotional impact
Apart from the physical effects, men who get breast cancer also have to deal with the emotional impact of suffering what many think is solely something that can happen to women. Dr Garvit Chitkara, Assistant Professor, Surgical Oncology (Breast Services) at Tata Memorial Hospital says, “Men sometimes feel alienated, marginalised and lonely. The social structure of the society makes it difficult for men to open up about the disease and seek treatment. First, it takes them time to come to terms that breast cancer can affect men also. Getting a ‘woman’s disease’ is the next stigma they deal with. Anxiety, shame, perceived weakness and the feeling of emasculation are common psychological issues. What makes it worse for the man is if he is the sole breadwinner for the family. Then, the emotional and financial implications are sometimes enormous.”

According to Dr Tewari, male breast cancer is not as challenging an issue as it is for women. She says, “The matter is more complex with women as it involves psychosexual functions and emotions. As a society, we also have to accept these patients with love, respect and without any prejudice.”

Dr SP Bhanot, Oncologist, Columbia Asia Hospital, also echoes these sentiments and says that physically men don’t change too much and that helps them with recovery. “In men, the cosmetic part is not important but the emotional aspect needs to be dealt with,” says Dr Bhanot.

Signs to look out for
• A lump felt in the breast
• Nipple pain
• An inverted nipple
• Nipple discharge (clear or bloody)
• Enlarged lymph nodes under the arm

Who is at risk:
People with obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, previous radiation and with certain familial tendencies are at an increased risk.

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